[This is a review of episodes 1 – 6 of season 2 of Hemlock Grove. There will be SPOILERS!]
As a fan of horror and a sucker for anything Eli Roth, I was very much looking forward to the start Hemlock Grove last year. But, if you caught our review of the beginning of the show’s first season, you know I wasn’t just disappointed - I was dumbfounded. Hemlock Grove season 1 wasn’t just a poor production. It was almost entirely unwatchable. In fact, I never even made it beyond episode 4.
For some reason, the sucker in me opted to give it another go. So to prepare to review season 2, I re-watched all four episodes and then finished the rest. It didn’t get any better. It’s all supernatural, melodramatic nonsense.
The moment I made my way into the new season, I was dumbfounded yet again, but for a different reason this time - because season 2 of Hemlock Grove is actually pretty good! The show’s still got problems and would probably only classify as a satisfactory production, but that’s enough to make it watchable. And if you’re into the idea of werewolves, the Upir and other supernatural forces, becoming watchable also allows it to become rather enjoyable.
Roman Is Crazy
Roman (Bill Skarsgård) is crazy, but good crazy. He was a bit odd throughout season 1, but after unleashing his inner Upir in the finale, Roman became a different breed of crazy. During season 1, it was much more about his obsession with his visions and learning about all the supernatural forces in Hemlock Grove as a normal person might. However, now he’s full-blown supernatural himself and he isn’t happy about it, and that lends itself to some wildly intense imagery and temper tantrums.
Roman’s still trying to do the right thing, but now more so than ever, he’s hardwired to do the opposite, and Skarsgård is doing a solid job maintaining both. Roman isn’t just maturing as an Upir; he’s also growing up as an average human kid might. It could be easy to forget that Roman is still a teenager, especially now that he no longer attends Hemlock High, but Roman’s behavior reeks of immaturity. Whether he’s feeling vulnerable, lonely and lost as anyone might or if he’s being consumed by his Upir bloodlust, Skarsgård approaches it as any teen would, by exhibiting an understanding of right and wrong, but being unable to adhere to it due to a lack of patience and maturity.
Regardless of the quality of season 1, Skarsgård was the perfect fit for this role from day one. He’s got an undeniable onscreen presence that makes him incredibly captivating no matter what nonsense the character’s up to. Roman’s ill-structured arc throughout season 1 didn’t do much to serve Skarsgård’s striking work, but what’s happened to Roman thus far in season 2 is far more coherent and properly paced, letting Skarsgård really show off his firm handle on all of Roman’s layers.
Peter Is Too Crazy
Landon Liboiron, on the other hand, is having the life sucked out of him thanks to a very repetitive and disjointed character narrative. First off, the police raid on the gypsy funeral comes out of nowhere. We know why Peter and Linda (Lili Taylor) skip town, and it makes sense that they’d wind up in the company of other gypsies, but why the cops? And why now? It’s too much of a coincidence and comes across as a forced way to bring them back to Hemlock Grove.
Some of Peter’s efforts to get his mother out of jail have led to some outstanding VFX moments, but it’s still tough to care about his mission or to care about Linda herself for that matter because, thus far, the reason she’s in there doesn’t really have anything to do with the core of the show.
Peter’s visions are more intriguing, but more because the killers involved are so disturbing. Even though we had no clue how that very first murder would play into the season, that opening sequence is extremely enthralling, and the same goes for just about anything those masked men do thereafter. It’s just too bad that all Peter does is whine about it without really accomplishing anything. Although it does look like he’ll team up with Michael Chasseur (Demore Barnes) in the episodes to come, so perhaps he’ll finally stop all this sulking and actually make some smart decisions.
The Love Triangle
As a big fan of Orange is the New Black, I was eager to see what Madeline Brewer was capable of beyond Litchfield and she doesn’t disappoint. Miranda is really just a nice, normal person, especially compared to all these supernatural creatures around her, but Brewer also gives her just enough sass and individual flare to make her feel like a really person who’s worth knowing on a deeper level. In fact, Miranda functions as an anchor of sorts in season 2.
Even though we’ve known Roman, Peter, and the rest of the gang for a while now, they’re changing big time and Miranda serves as a point of reference. It’s easy to jump into this realm of werewolves and the Upir, sit back, relax and take it all as fact, but then Miranda steps in to remind us just how crazy this all is before getting sucked into it herself.
Brewer, Skarsgård and Liboiron also sell that love triangle exceptionally well. Supernatural, young adult romances have a bad rap, but it works here because the connection is palpable. Miranda isn’t just after both Peter and Roman because they’re handsome, brooding and mysterious. She’s alone, they’ve been good to her and she finds the kindness comforting. It makes sense.
And the same goes for Peter and Roman, too. Peter lost Letha (Penelope Mitchell), Roman lost Shelley (now played by Madeleine Martin) and he’s also completely isolated from his mother. Miranda fills a void for both of them. These aren’t hollow relationships. These three share a real connection, so when Miranda hits the point where she’s sleeping with both Peter and Roman, it’s easy to discern how every single person involved feels, making it tough to judge Miranda or even to root for one guy over the other.
Hemlock Grove needed more Destiny in season 1. Clearly, the folks behind the show recognized that, because this season, Tiio Horn has a title card during the opening credits and loads more screen time in the first six episodes.
Similar to Skarsgård, there’s something magnetizing about Horn. Destiny is a fascinating character who adds an interesting layer to the supernatural happenings in Hemlock Grove, but as an individual, there’s really not that much to her. She’s constantly warning Peter of bad things to come, she eats some weird stuff, sees the future and that’s really all there is to it. An issue like that should sink a character, but with Horn, it doesn’t make her any less fun to watch. Destiny’s a brash, vibrant and confident person right smack in the middle of a whole bunch of sad sap characters; her energy is both infectious and necessary.
Do We Need Shelley?
Shelley is the most underused character in Hemlock Grove. Sure, she had her big moment at the end of season 1, but what happened to her of value beyond that? This is an abnormally tall teenage girl with one enormous eye and skin that glows. How is there not more depth to her, especially considering how she wound up that way to begin with? We need more of that, not her hanging out with a random little boy in an abandoned building.
Shelley accomplishes absolutely nothing in the first six episodes of season 2. Yes, she does finally put an end to Christina/the Vargulf, but even that isn’t particularly satisfying or exhilarating. The Vargulf was bad guy (or girl) #1 all throughout season 1 and then she digs herself out of the ground in season 2 only to have Shelley tear her apart in mere minutes with minimal effort? If you’re going to bring your primary villain from the previous season back at all, she can’t be a throwaway character.
Who even cares about Norman? He didn’t accomplish much in season 1 and now it’s as though he’s only needed in season 2 because of his relationship with Olivia (Famke Janssen), and that’s nowhere near enough to sustain his presence in another 13 episodes. Plus, he’s a drag. Does Norman even care about anything or anyone? He says he does, but when Dougray Scott leaves him with a single facial expression and entirely monotone dialogue, it’s tough to buy that he’s got any feelings whatsoever, especially when most of his scenes are alongside Olivia.
Janssen is right in line with Skarsgård and Horn; no matter what Olivia is up to and whether or not we have a clear understanding of what’s driving her, there’s still something undeniably engaging about her. In a way, Olivia is right back to where she was at the very beginning of season 1, but minus the accent and plus the limp. Season 1 features this endless game of trying to judge Olivia’s motives; is she pure evil or does her dedication to her family justify her behavior? The same thing is happening now. One minute, she’s broken, vulnerable and you truly feel for her, but then next, she’s up to something that’s just downright abhorrent. A little more clarity is vital for the character to keep growing at this point and the new issue of her aging faster could help make that happen.
Pryce Is Making Moves
Dr. Pryce is really becoming a Frankenstein of sorts and it’s loads of fun to watch and track. During season 1, Pryce basically just did Olivia’s bidding or worked on his own project in secret. In season 2, however, he’s making decisions on his own and Joel de la Fuente offers so much access to the character that the audience can feel part of it.
Similar to Roman, Dr. Pryce is a particularly fascinating character because he’s so conflicted. There’s a ruthlessness to him, but he seems to genuinely care about the Godfreys’ wellbeing. He could be using Olivia to continue to ensure he has free rein at The White Tower and what he does to Roman in episode 6 is questionable, but Pryce still gives off the impression that he’s a man of compassion in addition to science.
The biggest problem with the first season of Hemlock Grove is that it had zero structure in almost every respect. The narrative dragged and often didn’t make much sense, characters either had no arc at all or one that progressed in an uneven fashion, and then the shot selection was almost entirely ludicrous. The large majority of the coverage in the first season was simply coverage; it in no way enhanced a moment and certainly didn’t string the visuals together in a way that facilitated a build.
Season 2 doesn’t do a complete turnaround, but it certainly fixes enough of season 1’s most devastating issues. Hemlock Grove has gone from being absolutely unwatchable to a worthy guilty pleasure. The show does tend to cave under the weight of the abundance of main characters, but this time around, most of them are in the middle of some very engaging and exciting predicaments. If Hemlock Grove would just chop off the unnecessary main players and refine certain plot points, it might actually manage to go from sufficient entertainment to a mildly well-made production.
Hemlock Grove season 2 is available in its entirety on Netflix. Screen Rant will have more reviews on the season soon.
Follow Perri on Twitter @PNemiroff.